LE VRAI COUPABLE: Two Kinds of Criticism in Godard’s Work

This was originally a lecture given at a conference on Godard held in Cerisy, France on August 20, 1998. It subsequently appeared in a printed form somewhat closer to that found below, in Screen magazine (vol 40, no. 3). in Autumn 1999, as part of a Godard dossier assembled by the estimable Michael Witt. But, if memory serves, it took about a year of correspondence and wrangling before anyone on the magazine’s staff agreed to send me any copy of the issue. (Note: for a more general essay and interview with Godard about Histoire(s) du cinéma, go here.) —J.R.

Le Vrai Coupable: Two Kinds of Criticism in Godard’s Work

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Since the outset of his career, Godard has been interested in two kinds of criticism — film criticism and social criticism — and these two interests are apparent in practically everything he does and says as an artist. The first two critical texts that he published–in the second and third issues of Gazette du cinéma in 1950 — are entitled “Joseph Mankiewicz” and “Pour un cinéma politique”, and his first two features, A bout de souffle and Le petit soldat, made about a decade later, reflect the same dichotomy.… Read more »

Huck Finn and Mr. Welles (1988 lecture)

As far as I know, this is the only surviving remnant, at least on paper, of a lecture I gave at what may have been the first international and academic conference devoted to Orson Welles, held at New York University in May 1988. The footnotes haven’t survived. — J.R.

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Note: The following is a revised version of a paper which was initially structured around four lengthy excerpts from the Huckleberry Finn radio show presented on The Campbell Playhouse. In order to make this adaptation, I have eliminated all of my remarks about music and sound effects and given more emphasis to allusion and description rather than citation. Interested readers are urged to consult the radio show, available on Mark 56 Records (no. 634), P.O. Box One, Anaheim, CA 92805. [April 2015: This can now be accessed online and for free here.]

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Huckleberry Finn was broadcast on The Campbell Playhouse on March 17, 1940, during the period when Orson Welles was commuting every week between Hollywood and New York. Herman Mankiewicz was working on the first draft of the Citizen Kane script at the time. Three and a half months had passed since the final version of the film script of Heart of Darkness had been completed, and two months since the final script of The Smiler with the Knife.… Read more »

Early Film Reviews (August 1964)

Two movie columns published in Summer ’64, a newspaper published by Columbia University and Teachers College in August 1964, while I was attending summer school there in Manhattan. I recall having seen Hitchcock’s Marnie and Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning that same summer for the same publication, and reviewed at least the former, but apparently either this review never ran or my printed copy of it hasn’t survived -– more likely the former.

That Man from Rio is being released this spring in an attractive, restored 2-disc Blu-Ray package by the Cohen Film Collection, along with de Broca’s follow-up feature. Up to His Ears (Les Tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine, 1965). I’m still hoping for an eventual release of  the long-unavailable Five Day Lover (1961), which I recall as my favorite de Broca feature….One thing that I now think I got wrong about That Man from Rio is cross-referencing it with North by Northwest, when a comparison of Belmondo with Douglas Fairbanks (whose work I hadn’t encountered at the time) would have been far more apt. The shots of him running in this film are even more beautiful in some ways than those in Breathless, and some of his acrobatics are stunning.Read more »

Limite

From the Chicago Reader (November 22, 2007). — J.R.

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Sometimes cited as the greatest of all Brazilian films, this silent experimental feature (1931) by poet and novelist Mario Peixoto, who never completed another film, was seen by Orson Welles and won the admiration of everyone from Sergei Eisenstein to Walter Salles. But its status as a poetic narrative — about a man and two women lost at sea in a rowboat, whose pasts are conveyed in flashbacks — has kept it in the margins of most film histories, where it’s been known mainly as a provocative and legendary cult item. The remarkably luscious and mobile cinematography (for which cameraman Edgar Brazil had to build special equipment) alone makes it well worth seeing. 115 min. (JR)

limite2Read more »

PEANUTS, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Gary Groth of Fantagraphics Books commissioned me to write this Introduction to the first volume of Charles Schulz’s Sunday color strips of Peanuts, covering the early 1950s, which was published in November 2013. — J.R.

 

“…I’ve made a lot of mistakes down through the years doing things I
never should have done. But fortunately, in a comic strip, yesterday
doesn’t mean anything. The only thing that matters is today and tomorrow.”
— Charles Schultz to Gary Groth (“At 3 O’clock in the Morning,”
Comics Journal #200, December 1997)

 

It was one thing to read Sunday color Peanuts comic strips from 1952 to 1955 at the rate of one per week, when they came out — and not only because they would have wound up in the trash like the rest of the Sunday paper, long before my brothers and I went to sleep that night. And it’s quite another thing to read them all today, piled together in the present volume, one after the other, seven or eight panels at a time, as if they’re the successive chapters of an ongoing serial — or maybe just the latest portions of an endless white picket fence that stretches towards some version of infinity or eternity (or at least roughly half a century of dependable continuity, in any case).… Read more »

Invitation to the Trance [SLEEPWALK]

From the January 29, 1988 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

SLEEPWALK

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Sara Driver

Written by Driver and Lorenzo Mans

With Suzanne Fletcher, Ann Magnuson, Dexter Lee, Steven Chen, Tony Todd, Richard Boes, and Ako.

The French term fantastique — which emcompasses science fiction, comic strips, Surrealism, sword and sorcery tales, and many other forms of fantasy — suggests an attitude toward the imagination that is distinctly different from the Anglo-American model. In our more empirical culture, reams of verbiage are devoted to distinguishing science fiction from fantasy, and legislating certain laws of etiquette to govern both — rules of internal consistency and narrative coherence decreeing that all breaches with recognizable reality stem from the same premises, whether these premises be scientific, purely fanciful, or some mixture of the two.

The French tend to be freer and looser about such matters, which helps to explain why such films as Les visiteurs du soir, Picnic on the Grass, Last Year at Marienbad, Je t’aime, je t’aime, Alphaville, Fahrenheit 451, Celine and Julie Go Boating, and Deathwatch pose to English and American temperaments certain problems that are not posed by The Wizard of Oz, Things to Come, It’s a Wonderful Life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner.… Read more »

Two Neglected Filmmakers

These two short articles were written for the catalogue of the fifth edition of the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film in 2004. Both are about neglected filmmakers who are also longtime friends of mine–although neither, to the best of my knowledge, has ever seen any films by the other, and they met for the first time at the festival, where complete retrospectives of both filmmakers were being presented. (I first met Eduardo in Paris in 1973, shortly after he’d finished working as a screenwriter on Jacques Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau, and I first met Sara about ten years later in New York, shortly before I saw her first major film, You Are Not I, and decided to devote a chapter to her in my book Film: The Front Line 1983.) Her complete works are now available in a wonderful two-disc package, which can be found here.


When I was asked to write these two pieces for the BAFICI catalogue, I opted to make them each exactly the same length (942 words) and to make them rhyme with one another in various other ways. (Note: the last three images in this post, which for me evoke certain aspects of some of the films by both filmmakers, are all paintings by Remedios Varos: Insomnio I [1947], La Despedida [1958], and Bordando el Manto Terrestre [1961.])  — J.R


Two Neglected Filmmakers:
Eduardo de Gregorio and Sara Driver (2004)

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

 

Eduardo de Gregorio’s Dream Door
It must be a bummer to be an Argentinian writer and/or filmmaker and constantly get linked to Jorge Luis Borges.… Read more »

Short Cuts [COFFEE AND CIGARETTES]

This appeared in the May 28, 2004 issue of Chicago Reader. Coffee and Cigarettes, incidentally, proved to be one of the surprise hits of Jarmusch’s career — not as commercially successful as the subsequent Broken Flowers (though I prefer it to that), but more popular than anticipated. The overhead shots of expresso cups in a more recent Jamusch feature, The Limits of Control, recall those in Coffee and Cigarettes — providing even more of a contrast with some of the weird, transgressive, and uncharacteristic camera angles in the new film, starting with the very first shot. (Note: the first photograph below is by Jean-Daniel Beley, who has requested a credit.)—J.R.

Coffee and Cigarettes

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Jim Jarmusch

With Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinqué Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joe Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr., Renee French, E.J. Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach de Bankolé, Cate Blanchett, Jack White, Meg White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, GZA, RZA, Bill Murray, Bill Rice, and Taylor Mead.

At first Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, made over a span of 17 years, looks like a departure for him. It consists of 11 entertaining, mainly comic short films in black and white that show people mainly sitting around in coffeehouses mainly drinking coffee, mainly smoking cigarettes, and mainly talking.… Read more »

The Classical Modernist [on Manoel de Oliveira]

Reposted, to mourn the death of a titan, at age 106. From the July-August 2008 Film Comment, with the subhead “Negotiating the singular career of Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira on the eve of his 100th birthday “. – J.R.

 

Films, films,
The best resemble
Great books
That are difficult to penetrate
Because of their richness and depth.

The cinema isn’t easy
Because life is complicated
And art indefinable.
Making life indefinable
And art
complicated.
— Manoel de Oliveira, “Cinematographic Poem,” 1986 (translated from the Portuguese)

Since this century has taught us, and continues to teach us, that human beings can learn to live under the most brutalized and theoretically intolerable conditions, it is not easy to grasp the extent of the, unfortunately accelerating, return to what our 19th-century ancestors would have called the standards of barbarism.
— Eric Hobsbawm,
The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991


To insist that all great filmmakers contain multitudes is to risk a counter-response — that the same might equally be said of the not-so-great. Just as much labor can be expended on bad work as on good, and this applies to the labor of viewers and filmmakers alike.… Read more »

On F FOR FAKE (1995 essay)

Commissioned and published for the Voyager laserdisc of F for Fake in 1995.  My thanks to Marcio Sattin in São Paulo for giving me a printout of this untitled “lost” essay, which I’ve slightly re-edited.-– J.R.

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Orson Welles’ two major documentary forays stand roughly at opposite ends of his film career: It’s All True (1942) and F for Fake (1973), and together the two projects’ very titles express a dialectical relationship to the documentary. Both belong to a form of documentary known as the essay film that interested Welles throughout his career. Notwithstanding some Wellesian hyperbole, it seems safe to say that both titles accurately convey the overall essence of their respectiive projects: Most of the never-completed It’s All True, as Welles conceived and shot it, was true; most of F for Fake is fake -– a fake documentary about fakery, with particular attention devoted to art forger Elmyr de Hory, to author Clifford Irving, and to Welles himself. As Welles put it in a 1983 interview, “In F for Fake I said I was a charlatan and didn’t mean it . . . because I didn’t want to sound superior to Elmyr, so I emphasized that I was a magician and called it a charlatan, which isn’t the same thing.… Read more »

Jarmusch Unlimited: THE LIMITS OF CONTROL

Even if he didn’t like Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, which I found immensely pleasurable and mesmerizing, I’m glad that Hollywood Reporter‘s Michael Rechtshaffen at least picked up on the fact that Bill Murray, who turns up very late in the film, is “channeling” Dick Cheney when he does. This is by no means a gratuitous detail. Trust a minimalist to make absences as important as presences. None of the characters in this movie is named, all of them are assigned labels in the cast list, and the only label assigned to Murray is “American”. Furthermore, unless I missed something, the European (specifically Spanish) landscape that Jarmusch and his cinematographer Chris Doyle capture so beautifully and variously, in diverse corners of Madrid and Seville, is otherwise utterly devoid of Americans of any kind — a significant statement in itself — until a foul-mouthed Murray makes his belated experience in a bunker, as ill-tempered as the American trade press is already being about this entrancing movie. Prior to that, we’re told repeatedly, in Spanish, by a good many others in the film, that he who tries to be bigger than all the others should go to the cemetery to understand a little bit better what life is: a handful of dust.… Read more »

Redrawing History [POCAHONTAS]

From the Chicago Reader (June 30, 1995). — J.R.

 

Pocahontas

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg

Written by Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, and Pillip LaZebnick

With the voices of Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Linda Hunt, Russel Means, Christian Bale, Billy Connolly, and Joe Baker.


American history without Smith and Pocahontas is hard to imagine. If the void were there, something else — yet something similar — would have to fill it. — Bradford Smith, Captain John Smith: His Life & Legend

pocahontas-1.png Pocahontas

I assume we’re still some years away from the abolition of state-supported schools and the gleeful handing over of our entire system of education to the Disney people. But some of the studio’s clever promotions for Pocahontas might make you conclude that some such changes have already taken place.

Consider the “special collector’s issue” of the kids’ magazine Disney Adventures devoted to “Pocahontas: The Movie, The Stars, The Real-Life Story,” complete with ads for some of the spin-off products. It afforded me almost as much food for thought as the two hours I spent in a library reading through historical accounts of what “really” happened in the wilds of Virginia in the early 17th century.… Read more »

When Worlds Collide [WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT]

From the Chicago Reader (June 24, 1988). — J.R.


WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman

With Bob Hoskins, Joanna Cassidy, Christopher Lloyd, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, and the voices of Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner.

Imagine, if you can, that the characters who appear in animated cartoons actually exist. A repressed minority and endangered species known as Toons, they live on the fringes of Hollywood in 1947 in a ghetto known as Toontown; when they aren’t working for Disney or the other cartoon studios, they take on menial positions as waitresses, bartenders, cigarette girls, bouncers, and entertainers — at a segregated club called the Ink and Paint. (Among the acts at this dive are Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, who perform a duet on two pianos, and a vocalist named Jessica, a curvy vamp who’s a human Toon, accompanied by the bebop crows from Dumbo.)

Imagine, as well, that the live-action 40s Hollywood that these Toons are working in is the world of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, or at least that world as it was revised and “updated” by Robert Towne when he scripted Chinatown in the 70s. In the place of Chandler’s Marlowe and Towne’s Jake Gittes is Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a gumshoe whose jobs are mainly Toon-related, and whose partner and brother Teddy was killed a few years ago when an unknown Toon dropped a piano on the brothers, considerably dampening Eddie’s sense of humor and appreciation of Toons in the process.… Read more »

May the Force Leave Us Alone [on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK]

From The Soho News, May 21, 1980. –J.R.

The Empire Strikes Back

Story by George Lucas

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan

Directed by Irwin Kershner

Let’s face facts. Whether you or I love, hate or feel indifferent to The Empire Strikes Back – or any of the seven sequels and “prequels” to Star Wars slated to interfere with our lives over the next two decades — doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference in the long run, on the cosmic scale of things. Nor does it matter all that much in the mundane short run, either. Even if you stay away from the movie, manage to shun the novel and T-shirt and comic, avoid the soundtrack album and toys and video cassette, you can bet that a skilled team of disinterested humanitarians and technocrats, working round the clock with computers has decided that it’s so good for you and your kids that there’s no way you can prevent it from being crammed down your throats, in one form or another.

You’d better grin and bear it, if you know what’s good for you. The celestial machinery that has already turned Star Wars into the biggest grosser to date (“of all time” might seem a little excessive in forestalling the future) isn’t taking any chances in its investment by branching our or experimenting much.… Read more »

Truth and Consequence: On IT’S ALL TRUE: BASED ON AN UNFINISHED FILM BY ORSON WELLES

From my 2007 collection Discovering Orson Welles and the Chicago Reader (October 29, 1993). It seems a good time to revive this piece on the same day that I’m delivering the keynote lecture, on Welles, at the 14th annual conference that’s part of a film festival devoted to documentaries, both of which are called “It’s All True” (“É Tudo Verdade”), in São Paulo, Brazil. -– J.R.

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I’m one of the people who receives an acknowledgment in the final credits of         It’s All True: Based on an Unfinished Film by Orson Welles, but in fact       I regret the contribution I made to this film. During a phone conversation with       Bill Krohn, one of the writers, directors, and producers, Bill told me that one of       the French producers, Jean-Luc Ormières, was looking desperately for a   composer for the documentary who wouldn’t charge too much money. I     suggested Jorge Arriagada — the Chilean film composer who at that point            had written the scores for something like a couple of dozen films by Râúl Ruiz, a filmmaker I greatly admire as well as a friend — and Arriagada  wound up getting hired for the job. I recall having heard that Arriagada mainly worked for Ruiz because he liked to do so rather than out of economic necessity, and this fact combined with Ruiz’s own Welles worship and Arriagada’s South American background made him seem ideal.  Unfortunately, this conclusion was built on the common Anglo-American fallacy that Latin America is something like a single homogeneous culture — the same assumption, I presume, that years later would prompt Colin MacCabe, the producer at the British Film Institute of a series of national  film histories on film or video assigned to various filmmakers, to assign the whole of Latin American cinema to one (admittedly very talented and knowledgeable) Brazilian director, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, yielding his 93-minute Cinema of Tears in 1995.Read more »